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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Judges 8

 

 

Verse 1

8:1. Why hast thou served us thus, &c. — Why hast thou neglected and despised us in not calling us in to thy help? This they considered as very contemptuous treatment, since Gideon had sent to other tribes, that were meaner, and not so able to assist him as themselves. These were a proud people, puffed up with a conceit of their number and strength, and the preference which Jacob gave them above Manasseh, of which tribe Gideon was, who, by this act, had seemed to advance his own tribe, and to depress theirs,


Verse 2

8:2. What have I done now? &c. — What I have done in cutting off some of the common soldiers is not to be compared with your destroying their princes. I began the war, but you have finished it. Gideon here shows a noble temper of mind, which deserves admiration and imitation. Though in the midst of a most glorious victory, in which he was the chief instrument; yet, for the sake of the common good, that there might be no dissension, nor the help of the Ephraimites be wanting to distress the enemy, he receives their reproaches without anger, and even humbles himself before them, making himself of no account in comparison with them, and magnifying their service as greatly superior to his own. He disarms their insolence by his humility; their anger by his meekness; “a singular instance,” says Dr. Dodd, “of modesty and prudence in a man of Gideon’s courage.” Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim — What you have gleaned, or done after me; better than the vintage of Abi-ezer? — That is, of the Abi-ezrites, to whom he modestly ascribes the honour of the victory, and does not arrogate it to himself. It is not improbable but this might be a proverbial expression in those days, whereby it was customary to commend the smallest action of one as superior to the greatest of another. And the proverb, perhaps, was founded on fact, namely, that more grapes were usually gleaned in the large and extensive country occupied by the Ephramites, than the whole vintage of the small district belonging to Abi-ezer afforded. Be this as it will, the proverb is here applied with all the propriety imaginable, and its meaning is obvious. It is as if he had said, These scattered parties which you have gleaned and picked up at the fords of Jordan are much more considerable than those which I and my whole host have destroyed.


Verse 3

8:3. Then their anger was abated — According to that fine maxim of Solomon, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”


Verse 4

8:4. Gideon came to Jordan and passed over — Or rather, had passed over, for he went over Jordan before Oreb and Zeeb were taken; but this is not mentioned till now, that what concerned the Ephraimites might be related all together, without interruption. And the three hundred men — with him — Who here show the same noble spirit, fortitude, contempt of ease, and regard to what they were engaged in, which Gideon manifested; for though they were faint with hunger, and much fatigued through what they had done, yet they were eager to do still more against the enemies of their country, and therefore persisted to pursue them. Thus our spiritual warfare must be prosecuted with what strength we have, though we may have but little. This is frequently the true Christian’s case: like Gideon and his men, he is faint, yet pursuing.


Verse 6

8:6. Are the hands of Zeba and Zalmunna now in thy hand? — Art thou so foolish as to think with thy three hundred faint and weary soldiers to conquer and destroy fifteen thousand men? Thus they make light of the advantage he had gained, and tauntingly tell him, that he had not yet got these kings into his hands, that they should run the danger of giving him and his men food, and so afterward have those kings to fall upon them. Thus they show the most dastardly and ungenerous spirit, and shut up the bowels of their compassion against their brethren, who, with extreme toil, and at the hazard of their lives, were endeavouring to deliver them and the rest of their country from a cruel slavery. Were these Israelites! Surely they were worshippers of Baal, or in the interest of Midian.


Verses 7-9

8:7; 8:9. With the thorns of the wilderness — The city was near a wilderness that abounded with thorns and briers. Penuel — Another city beyond Jordan; both were in the tribe of Gad. I will break down this tower Some strong fort in which they greatly confided, and their confidence in which made them thus proud and presumptuous. Perhaps they pointed to it when they gave him their rude answer.


Verse 10

8:10. There fell a hundred and twenty thousand men — Such a terrible execution did they make among themselves, and so easy a prey were they to Israel. That drew the sword — That is, persons expert and exercised in war, besides the retainers to them.


Verse 11

8:11. By the way of them that dwelt in tents — That is, the Arabians, termed Scenitæ, from their dwelling in tents. He fetched a compass by their country, and so poured in upon the rear of Zebah and Zalmunna, where they suspected no danger. He smote the host; for the host was secure — Being now got safe over Jordan, and a great way from the place of battle. And as they had fled as fast as they could the day before, and part of the preceding night, and were therefore weary, and now thought themselves out of all danger, it is probable they were gone to take their rest, and that Gideon fell upon them when they were fast asleep, as he had done at first on their main army.


Verse 13

8:13. Gideon returned before the sun was up — By which it may be gathered, that he came upon them in the night, which was most convenient for him who had so small a number with him, and most likely to terrify them by the remembrance of the last night’s sad work. It must be acknowledged, however, that different interpretations are given of this passage. The Seventy, the Syriac, and Arabic versions take החרס, hechares, here rendered sun, for the name of a place, in which they are followed by Houbigant, who translates the words, By that place which is above Hares. It is well known, however, that the word just quoted does properly mean the sun, and is so translated in other passages of Scripture, and the translating it so here both gives a more important sense to the passage, and is more agreeable to the context than the amendment proposed.


Verse 14

8:14. He described unto him, &c. — Hebrews יכתב, jichtob, he wrote down, probably the names and dwellings, and perhaps also the qualities of the great men of the city, and of the judges, who were the persons that derided Gideon, and whom alone he intended to punish, and not all the people who were not guilty.


Verse 16-17

8:16-17. With them he taught the men of Succoth — He tore their flesh with these thorns, (as he had threatened, 8:7.) It is not said that he tormented them till they expired, and therefore he perhaps only put them to torture for some time; but if he put them to death, then the expression, with them he taught the men of Succoth, must mean, that he made their death an example to the rest of the inhabitants, to terrify them from such ungenerous behaviour for the future. “As their crime was the same,” says Dr. Dodd, “as that of the men of Penuel, it seems likely that it was a punishment unto death. However severe, this chastisement was just. In refusing Gideon the succour which he demanded for the troops employed to save the state, they rendered themselves guilty of a species of rebellion; they sinned against the laws of humanity; they joined insult to their cruelty; and their refusal, unworthy a people who had any respect for religion, and any love for their country, merited a more public chastisement; as otherwise their example might have proved contagious, and have defeated all the good effects of Gideon’s government.” He slew the men of the city — Not all of them; probably only those who had affronted him.


Verse 18

8:18. What manner of men were they, &c. — In outward shape and quality. Whom ye slew at Tabor? — Whither he understood his brethren had fled for shelter upon the approach of the Midianites, and where he learned that some Israelites had been slain, whom he suspected to be them. We have no mention of this slaughter before, and here the account of it is so short, that we can only form conjectures. It is evident, however, that these kings had slain Gideon’s brethren; but in what manner, and for what reason, we are not informed. They answered, As thou art, so were they, &c. — By this it appears that Gideon was of a goodly presence, carrying greatness and majesty in his aspect; and that kings in those days were wont to match only with graceful persons, by whom they might hope to have children like themselves. Each one resembled the children of a king — Not for their garb or outward splendour, but for the majesty of their looks. By which commendation they doubtless thought to have ingratiated themselves with their conqueror.


Verse 19

8:19. If ye had saved them alive, &c. — For, as they were not Canaanites, he was not obliged by any command of God to put them to death: but as they had killed his brethren, and that, it seems, in cold blood, he was, by God’s law, the avenger of their death, being their near kinsman.


Verse 20

8:20. He said unto Jether, Up, and slay them — Some think he said this to animate his son to the use of arms for his God and country, and that he might have a share in the honour of the victory. It must be observed, that it was not unusual or disgraceful for great persons to do execution upon offenders in ancient times; no more than it was to sentence them to death: and therefore they had not, as now, public executioners; but Saul commanded such as waited on him to kill the priests; and Doeg, one of his great officers, performed that office, 1 Samuel 22:17-18. And Samuel himself is said to have hewed Agag to pieces in Gilgal; and Benaiah, the general of the army, to have fallen upon Joab at the horns of the altar. But the youth feared — The two kings were men, it is likely, of good stature, and of a fierce and stern countenance.


Verse 21

8:21. Rise thou, and fall upon us — They thought it better to die by the hand of Gideon, who was as eminent for his strength as his dignity, and would despatch them with more speed than a stripling could.


Verse 22

8:22. Rule thou over us — Not as a judge, for as such he already ruled over them, but as a king; both thou and thy son, &c. — Let the kingdom be hereditary to thee and to thy family. For thou hast delivered us — This miraculous and extraordinary deliverance by thy hands deserves no less from us.


Verse 23

8:23. I will not rule over you — As a king. He rejected their offer, because he looked upon God as their king, who appointed what deputy he pleased to govern them; and because he considered this proposal as an effort, or at least as tending to alter that form of government which God had instituted and had given them no authority to change. The Lord shall rule over you — In a special manner, as he hath hitherto done by judges. These God particularly appointed and directed in all the more important concerns of their office, even by Urim and Thummim, and, in a special manner, assisted upon all occasions: whereas kings had only a general dependance on God. That God was their supreme Ruler and King, was the foundation of their whole state. Hence the judgment which was administered among them is called God’s judgment, Deuteronomy 1:17. And Solomon is said to sit upon the throne of the Lord, (1 Chronicles 29:23,) and the kingdom of his posterity is called the kingdom of the Lord, (2 Chronicles 13:8,) because before kings were settled in Israel, the Lord was their king; from whom the government was derived to the house of David by a special act of God.


Verse 24

8:24. Because they were Ishmaelites — A mixture of people all called by one general name, Ishmaelites or Arabians, who used to wear ear-rings; but the greatest and the ruling part of them were Midianites.


Verse 27

8:27. Gideon made an ephod thereof — Not of all of it; for then it would have been too heavy for use; but of part of it, the rest being probably employed about other things appertaining to it; which elsewhere are comprehended under the name of the ephod, as 17:5. Put it in his city — Not as a monument of the victory, for such monuments were neither proper nor usual; but for religious use, for which alone the ephod was appointed. The case seems to be this: Gideon having by God’s command erected an altar in his own city, Ophrah, ( 6:24,) for an extraordinary time and occasion, thought it might be continued for ordinary use; and therefore as he intended to procure priests, so he designed to make priestly garments, and especially an ephod, which was the chief and most costly; which, besides its use in sacred ministrations, was also the instrument by which the mind of God was inquired and discovered, 1 Samuel 26:6-9; and it might seem necessary for the judge to have this at hand, that he might consult with God upon all occasions. Israel went a whoring — Committed idolatry with it; or went thither to inquire the will of God, whereby they were drawn from the true ephod, instituted by God for this end, which was to be worn by the high-priest only. Which thing became a snare — An occasion of sin and ruin to him and his as the next chapter shows. Though Gideon was a good man, and did this with an honest mind, and a desire to set up religion in his own city and family, yet here seem to be many sins in it: 1st, Superstition and will- worship, worshipping God by a device of his own, which was expressly forbidden: 2d, Presumption, in wearing, or causing other priests to wear this kind of ephod, which was peculiar to the high-priest: 3d, Transgression of a plain command, of worshipping God ordinarily but at one place and one altar, Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 12:11-14 : 4th, Making a division among the people: 5th, Laying a stumbling-block, or an occasion of idolatry, before that people, whom he knew to be too prone to it.


Verse 28

8:28. They lifted up their heads no more — That is, they recovered not their former strength or courage, so as to conquer or oppress others. The country was in quietness forty years — To the fortieth year from the beginning of the Midianitish oppression; in the days of Gideon — As long as Gideon lived.


Verse 29

8:29. Dwelt in his own house — Not in his father’s house, as he did before; nor yet in a court like a king, as the people desired; but in a middle state, as a judge, for the preservation and maintenance of their religion and liberties.


Verse 31-32

8:31-32. His concubine that was in Shechem — She dwelt there, and he often went thither, either to execute judgment, or upon other occasions. Abimelech — That is, my father the king; so he called him, probably to gratify his concubine, who desired it either out of pride, or design. Gideon died in a good old age — His long life being crowned with the continuance of honour, tranquillity, and happiness.


Verse 33

8:33. As soon as, &c. — Whereby we see the temper of this people, who did no longer cleave to God, than they were in a manner constrained to it, by the presence and authority of the judges. Baalim — This was the general name including all their idols, one of which here follows: Baal- berith — That is, the Lord of the covenant; so called, either from the covenant wherewith the worshippers of this god bound themselves to maintain his worship, or defend one another therein; or rather, because he was reputed the god and judge of all covenants, and promises, and contracts, to whom it belonged to maintain them, and to punish the violators of them; and such a god both the Grecians and the Romans had.


Verse 35

8:35. Neither showed they kindness to the house of Gideon — No wonder they were so ungrateful to the family of this illustrious man, when they were so forgetful of the God of all their mercies; according to the goodness he had showed unto Israel — In hazarding his life for their service, and accomplishing a glorious deliverance in their favour; and in leaving them in the full enjoyment of their liberty, by refusing the despotic power with which they offered to invest him, and in governing them for the space of so many years with so much prudence, that he left them in a happy state of tranquillity, having the worship of the true God established among them when he died.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 8:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/judges-8.html. 1857.

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